Confronting the Bear

Russia's latest flexing of her military might in Georgia has confirmed to the world that she is a power growing in eminence. Alanna O'Malley asks if Europe should be quaking in her boots at this latest display of growing Russian hegemony.When Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili sent forces into South Ossetia on the night of August 7th, it is unlikely that he anticipated the swiftness and veracity of Russia’s response in defence of the breakaway province.Within five days, Russian forces had pulverised the Georgian army and the military action in the province was widely declared to be over.What is significant about this action however, is not only its impact on the nationalist-orientated territories in the region but also what it reveals of Russia’s prominence and intentions in global affairs.It is important to establish that although Saakashvili was the first to resort to military action to qualm nationalist proclivities in the province, Russia has been blamed for its alarmist and rapid military response to the crisis.Their contention was that the military action was in defence of the Russian citizens living in the province, an excuse, which has been bitingly noted by Sweden’s foreign minister, as reminiscent of Hitler’s justification of Nazi invasions.The irony for the fate of the nationalists in Southern Ossetia is that rather than breaking free of Georgia, they have effectively been annexed by Russia.This annexation is copper-fastened by the continued presence of what were originally Russian peacekeepers in the region that are now, no doubt behaving as occupying forces.Although its independence has been diplomatically recognised by its powerful neighbour, it is unlikely to retain much autonomy in the face of rising Russian superiority. This is especially so given that it is not recognised as a sovereign state by the EU or the USA.In addition, the might of the Russia military, as evidenced through Putin’s action in the region, will surely tranquilise the nationalist ambitions of neighbouring countries, ensuring that the strength of their influence in the region is maintained.Indeed, this episode in Georgia will sound alarm bells for all of Russia’s neighbours, especially those with West-ward leaning tendencies.The USA has been keen to cultivate relations with states like Georgia and the Ukraine in order to strengthen the bulwark between it and the growing hegemony of Russia but this latest action in Russia displays just how far Putin and Medvedev are willing to go in order to preserve their spheres of influence.This is closely linked to Russia’s new programme of development as a world power, outlined by President Medvedev last week.Essentially it represents a return to Cold War terminology where spheres of influence are of paramount importance.It appears that Russia is no longer content with accepting the global primacy of the United States, and a good measure of their power will be the extent of their influence over other nations.The problem with the expansion of their sphere of influence is that if Russia continues to exercise its military might in order to guarantee such perceived influences, it spells trouble for any provinces in the region with nationalist tendencies, and of course, for nations friendly to the West. The fighting in Georgia may be just a glimpse of things to come.For the EU, this episode with Georgia is also rather disquieting. Relations with Russia have been tense recently, especially with regard to rising oil prices and increasing reliance on supplies of oil and gas from the superpower.In 2006, Russia cut off supplies to the Ukraine, in a conflict over a Russian pipeline which ran through the country, with the result that major European countries like France, Germany and Italy reported a 40% fall in their supplies.Considering the heavy European dependence on supplies for Russia, the search for other sources is now on.‘Energy-security’, has become the buzzword for European politicians and it seems the most likely alternative source of fuel will be Norway, which is the second-largest exporter of fossil fuels on the continent.However, given Norway’s relatively isolated position in international affairs, her close proximity to Russia and her comparatively non-existent military capacity, the reliability on this as a sustainable source is questionable.In terms of international relations, this recent action over Georgia also points to the hypocrisy of the EU and NATO.Although the conflict was not long enough to realistically require any outside interference, all the indications are that in a longer confrontation, the level of European engagement will be questionable.It is clear that any small nation like Georgia will have to look towards the United Nations and America, rather than towards the Europeans for support, as there is a clear hesitancy to openly confront the former Soviet Union.This is somewhat understandable considering the extent of European reliance on Russian supplies, but the extent to which this ties into her global security commitments is now at stake.
The economic crisis in America and the possibility of a further crunch hitting her trade-dependent allies creates an opportunity for Russia to fill the power-vacuum in world affairs
On a broader level, the economic crisis in America and the possibility of a further crunch hitting her trade-dependent allies creates an opportunity for Russia to fill the power-vacuum in world affairs.As much as Medvedev recently called for the growth of a multipolar world, in reality this can be interpreted as a bipolar world in which the two central players would be Russia and America.Though the ideology is similar, the resurgence of Russia represents a shift in the balance of power since Cold War days, and this is what has really heated up the debate on her growing domination.The very use of terms like ‘national interest’, ‘spheres of influence’ and ‘polarity’ by Russia, poses a serious threat to global security. This time round however, it will be the Bear challenging Uncle Sam.